Democracy and Epistocracy

Gunn, Paul. 2014. Democracy and Epistocracy. Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society, 26(1), pp. 59-79. ISSN 0891-3811 [Article]

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In Democratic Reason, Hélène Landemore argues that deliberation and the aggregation of citizens' dispersed knowledge should tend to produce better consequences than rule by the one or the few. However, she pays insufficient attention to the epistemic processes necessary to realize these democratic goods. In particular, she fails to consider the question of where citizens' beliefs and ideas come from, with the result that the democratic decision mechanisms she focuses on are insufficiently powerful to justify her consequentialist defense of mass decision making. If “the few” are technocratic experts, Landemore supplies little reason to resist their rule on epistemic grounds, for she does not secure a knowledge base for the citizens that might compete with the knowledge that is often attributed to such “experts.” Aggregating and deliberating about poor information is no substitute for good information. Her book can therefore be seen as a call for a new phase of epistemic political theory that compares the real-world knowledgeability of ordinary citizens and putative experts, but it does not convincingly deliver on its goal to demonstrate the epistemic superiority of the former.

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27 May 2014Published

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05 Nov 2014 11:48

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30 Jun 2017 10:37

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